Marks & Spencer Single Hop Ales

Marks & Spencer Single Hop Ales

Ten years ago, Marks & Spencer stocked a lim­it­ed range of unex­cit­ing beers, gener­i­cal­ly pack­aged, with no infor­ma­tion about where they had been brewed, or by whom. We would nev­er have imag­ined then that we would one day be able to order from them a mixed case of four pale ales each designed to show­case a sin­gle hop vari­ety.

  • Elgood’s Sov­er­eign Gold­en Ale (5%)
  • Crouch Vale Haller­tau Brewer’s Gold Gold­en Ale (4%)
  • Cas­tle Rock Cas­cade Pale Ale (5%)
  • Oakham Cit­ra IPA (4.9%).

The labels of all four bot­tles not only pro­vide all of the essen­tial infor­ma­tion you might expect but also a pot­ted his­to­ry of each hop vari­ety, e.g.:

The brewer’s gold hop was orig­i­nal­ly devel­oped at Wye Col­lege in the UK in 1927 as one of the first ‘high­er alpha hops’ and is now most­ly grown in the renowned Haller­tau region of Bavaria where hop plant­i­ng dates back to 736AD.

Most casu­al buy­ers won’t be ter­ri­bly inter­est­ed in that lev­el of detail – they don’t need to know about Wye – but they will pick up the intend­ed mes­sage: it’s sophis­ti­cat­ed stuff, this beer.

The range isn’t quite a Brew­dog-style pseu­do-sci­en­tif­ic exer­cise in palate-train­ing: each beer in the M&S range is made by a dif­fer­ent brew­ery to a dif­fer­ent recipe, so the hop vari­ety is far from being the only vari­able in play. Nonethe­less, three of the four do a good job of putting the hop to the fore.

Cas­tle Rock’s amber-coloured Cas­cade IPA remind­ed us, per­haps unsur­pris­ing­ly, of Sier­ra Neva­da Pale Ale: restrained by mod­ern stan­dards, but cit­rus-juicy and full-bod­ied. The Crouch Vale Brewer’s Gold has a mel­low cen­tral Euro­pean char­ac­ter, lemon-sher­bet hop­pi­ness being bal­anced by bready malt: it would be good by the litre. Oakham Cit­ra is one-dimen­sion­al, in a good way, being all about bright, Tech­ni­col­or trop­i­cal fruit flavours and aro­mas. After each, we felt some­what bet­ter edu­cat­ed.

The dud is the Elgood’s Sov­er­eign. It doesn’t taste bad, as such, but like a beer with a dash of choco­late flavour­ing in it, pre­sum­ably from whichev­er dark malt gives it its red-brown hue. The cheap East­er egg char­ac­ter over­whelmed what is, any­way, a fair­ly del­i­cate­ly-flavoured hop entire­ly. Weird­ly, in the small print (as Simon point­ed out to us) ‘hon­ey flavour­ing’ is list­ed as an ingre­di­ent. Why is it there? And is it the source of a tacky vanil­la essence note? The beer cer­tain­ly didn’t taste of hon­ey.

We bought our case of twen­ty 568ml bot­tles (five of each) from the M&S web­site where it was on dis­count from £40 to £36.50, plus £3.50 deliv­ery. UPDATE: we also bought a case of ‘dark beers’ for £40 and have post­ed some brief tast­ing notes on our Face­book page.

10 thoughts on “Marks & Spencer Single Hop Ales”

  1. Sounds like (with 5 duds out of 20) id be bet­ter spend­ing 40 quid on 15 bot­tles in beer Ritz or wait­rose then. May pop into m&s next time I pass pick up a cou­ple

  2. ooh anoth­er steve…i’ll also maybe pick these up in M&S, have seen them there but to me they’re almost rebadges of the brew­ers pre-exist­ing beers

  3. Agree that Elgood’s offer­ing is pret­ty poor. Oakham’s M&S Cit­ra is fan­tas­tic though. M&S usu­al­ly has a 6 bot­tles for the price of 5 on, although some­times it is 3 bot­tles for £6. good val­ue either way.

    Oth­er good shouts in M&S are a Lon­don Porter Mean­time, an Irish Stout from Car­low, rebadged Oakham JHB as Cam­bridgeshire Gold­en Ale, St Austell Cor­nish IPA and Adnams Win­ter and Sum­mer IPAs.

    1. Didn’t realise it was JHB – had that one on the train the oth­er night. I don’t know when I’ve had such an easy-drink­ing ale (in a good, flavour­ful way). Oakham con­tin­ue to go up in my esti­ma­tion – the Cit­ra IPA was a “pause after each mouth­ful, what was that?” flavour-fest. (Again, in a good way!)

      Shame about the Elgood’s – I’ve nev­er been knocked out by their stuff, and it sounds as if this one wouldn’t be any excep­tion. On the price point, they’ve been going at £2.85 where I’ve seen them on sale, so £40 would actu­al­ly be 15 for the price of 14, give or take.

      1. The main appeal of deliv­ery for us, regard­less of price, is that our near­est M&S is anoth­er town across and we don’t have a car.

        We also ordered a mixed case of porters/stouts/milds for about the same price. Slight­ly appre­hen­sive about the Robinson’s Choco­late Porter…

        1. I’ve only had it once, but I liked it well enough – and beers with real­ly obvi­ous, flavour-mask­ing addi­tives are a pet hate of mine.

  4. Shame about the Elgood’s, since the Sov­er­eign is the only British hop prop­er in the bunch I believe (a recent strain IIRC). Per­haps it is down to the par­tic­u­lar brew­ing rather than the hop. I’d buy it though to encour­age the revival of U.K. hop cul­ture.

    Gary

    1. i don’t think it is the hop which is the issue with it, so i would buy oth­er beer made with this hop.. I think it is the ‘hon­ey’ flavour which left a dis­agree­able after­taste

  5. Basi­cal­ly, I’m with what oth­er core­spon­dens say about the Elgo­ods Sov­er­eign. Why add “hon­ey flavour”? A shame real­ly as Elgo­ods oper­ate out of a fas­ci­nat­ing tra­di­tion­al brew­ery, with a love­ly restored gar­den behind – do vis­it if you get the chance.

    I’ve still to try the Cas­tle Rock Cas­cade, but one com­ment I would make about these beers is they’re all in tra­di­tion­al pint (568ml) bot­tles, which makes the price rather more rea­son­able.

    ps. from mem­o­ry, the Robin­sons Choco­late Porter was light in colour; more like a bit­ter than a true porter.

  6. I sec­ond the praise for the St Austell M&S beers: the IPA is won­der­ful, and also the pale ale – reminds me of King & Barnes bot­tle-con­di­tioned bit­ter from the 90s.

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